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Well Behaved Buildings

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 3, 2005 7:35PM

Chicagoist has mixed feelings about the proposed Fordham Spire (a.k.a Chicago’s next tallest building). It’d be an innovative structure by a celebrated “star-chitecht” that plays well with its neighbors. But does Chicago need another insanely tall skyscraper? Is this a fitting next chapter in the history of Chicago architecture? Three free, informative exhibits at the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s ArchiCenter provide some perspective.

In 1972, five up-and-coming architects wrote “Five Architects”, a manifesto detailing how they’d rock the architecture world. ArchiCenter’s contemporary response of the same name celebrates in text and video five young firms and their most successful collaborations. Zaha Hadid brought life to downtown Cincinnati, designing their Contemporary Arts Center. Ross Barney + Jankowski helped design a new Federal Campus for Oklahoma City and helped the town move on. Toyko Firm SANAA designed a Glass Pavilion in Toledo. Julie Snow Architects made public transit more appealing in Minneapolis. And Chicago’s funky own Studio/Gang is transforming the headquarters of SOS Children’s Village on the south side.

marquette-lobby.jpgIn an adjacent room, Holabird & Root is honored for 125 years of shaping Chicago’s skyline, its neighborhoods, corporate headquarters and institutions of higher learning. This brain trust brought us the Chicago Board of Trade, the Marquette Building with its unmistakable lobby, the Chicago Temple, (the original) Soldier Field, and the soon-to-go-condo Palmolive Building. It’s no exaggeration to say they’ve had a major impact on our city’s image.

In 1880, fresh from apprenticeships with skyscraper pioneer William LeBaron Jenney, William Holabird and Martin Roche (with a less celebrated third partner) started their own firm. In 1928, William’s son John and John Root became the prime partners and renamed the firm. Like many success stories, H & R assessed the new technology, found the trends, and often went a step or two further. Even the good ideas that never saw construction, like their third-place Tribune Tower proposal, would inspire a wave of early 20th century Chicago skyscrapers.

archiCompetition.jpgThat divisive competition for the Trib HQ is highlighted with four other case studies in Competition: Public Process for Public Architecture. The exhibit devotes the most space to the most emotional, and still ongoing, process: the World Trade Center site. That a jury and much of the public could deem the entire first round of proposals uninspiring reminds us this is more than just a building project. Here you’ll also remember, or learn about, the wrestling match for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. James Hoban won a princely $500 for his winning design of the White House. The competition for the Harold Washington Library Center reminds us what might have been.